Best Dressed: Hilliard’s Beer
1550 NW 49th St, Ballard, 206-915-3303; hilliardsbeer.com
Cofounder Adam Merkl leaves the brewing to his partner Ryan Hilliard and head brewer Todd Garrett. But Merkl’s background in design prompted the distinctive herringbone pattern on the brewery’s cans. The Ballard brewery (with an inviting taproom every bit as stylish as the cans) began pouring only last October, but has swiftly infiltrated bars, restaurants, and grocery stores around the city. Hilliard’s is a rare brewery that cans a Belgian—style saison brew, but surely the sharp packaging helps as well.
Most Athletic: NW Peaks Brewery
142 N 80th St, Ballard, 206-853-0525; nwpeaksbrewery.com
A stone’s throw and a world away from trendy Old -Ballard is a shoebox of an industrial garage where Kevin Klein brews very small amounts of very good beer, most with lower alcohol levels that encourage bountiful drinking. Before he became enthralled with home brewing, Klein got into mountaineering. Every beer he creates, be it the dark Esmeralda Ale or the fruit-noted Redoubt Red, is named for a peak the brewer has personally scaled. Sampling his beers usually requires a trip to base camp, aka the garage and its tasting-friendly patio.
Most School Spirit: Schooner Exact Brewing Company
3901 First Ave S, SoDo, 206-432-9734; schoonerexact.com
Named for the ship that first dropped the Denny Party, Seattle’s founders, at Alki Point in 1851, this brewery stays true to the classic beer styles and gives its products names that serve as alcohol-fueled lessons in Seattle history. The Profanity Hill Porter harkens back to the days when lawyers used to ascend First Hill to the original city courthouse, lodging R-rated complaints about the steep hike to anyone who would listen. And the Seamstress Union Raspberry Wheat summertime beer…well, those ladies weren’t actually seamstresses.
Most Likely to Succeed: Fremont Brewing Company
3409 Woodland Park Ave N, Fremont, 206-420-2407; fremontbrewing.com
Born of a scrappy warehouse space in Fremont in 2009, today the brewery is…still a scrappy warehouse space, albeit one that keeps major grocery stores and more than 350 statewide bars and restaurants stocked with its beers. Fremont will start canning its Universale, Inter-urban IPA, and seasonal creations this summer, and by year’s end aims to have the largest barrel-aged beer program in the state, aging beer in 400 bourbon and wine barrels. Also, owner and recovering lawyer Matt -Lincecum keeps his carbon footprint small, which has to be good for company karma. The urban beer garden—a fancy name for a delightfully unfancy space—has a large roll-up door, comfortable seats, and a handy proximity to some only-at-the-brewery taps.
Teacher’s Pet: Black Raven Brewing Company
14679 NE 95th St, Redmond, 425-881-3020; blackravenbrewing.com
Ask local brewers what beers they geek out about, and most of them will point to Redmond. In the heart of the most nondescript of office parks, Black Raven makes creations that usually carry the words strong, dark, or bourbon-barrel aged somewhere in the name—along with some reference to birds in literature or myth-ology. Just when you’ve characterized this place as a den of knockdown boozy beers, brewer Beaux Bowman will surprise you with his summer-perfect Sun Thief Kristallweizen. Spotting a Raven outside its natural habitat is relatively rare (especially west of Lake Washington), but inside the facility’s four walls march a steady parade of memorable beers, in small batches. Despite its intimidating lineup, the taproom is exceedingly friendly; a cask-aged creation gets tapped every Wednesday at 4:30, and the annual anniversary party is a must for beer geeks.
Class Flirt: Big Al Brewing
9832 14th Ave SW, White Center, 206-453-4487; bigalbrewing.com
White Center’s hometown brewery makes admirable year-round beers, but owner Alejandro Brown likes to partner up with just about any restaurant, bar, or community group that catches his eye—to create special beers in their honor. Sounders megafans the Emerald City Supporters now toast matches with Big Al Brougham Bitter, while the house beer at Tutta Bella pizzeria is a pie-friendly amber ale of Al’s creation. Every few months, the brewery produces a new beer especially for West Seattle and White Center bars, and proceeds go to charity.
Biggest Geek: Epic Ales
3201 First Ave S, Ste 104, SoDo, 206-351-3637; epicales.com
Owner Cody Morris may look like a high school student, but he isn’t afraid of confounding customers with audacious flavors like Belgian ale Solar Trans Amplifier, made with rice, ginger, and chamomile, or his dark Terra-Saurus, earthy with shiitake mushrooms. Working with ingredients like cane sugar, white peppercorns, and dried cherries, his closet-size brew house produces food-friendly farmhouse-style ales, originally brewed for the men tilling the fields in France and Belgium and forgoing the hoppy bite perfected in the Northwest. Though an expansion and brewpub are in the works, hunting down Epic’s mind-bending brews usually means wrangling one of the three seats or limited standing room in the tiny SoDo taproom.
Biggest Overachiever: American Brewing Company
180 W Dayton St, Warehouse 102, Edmonds, 425-774-1717; americanbrewing.com
Since opening in February 2011, the Edmonds brewery has brewed 11 beers, bottled three of them, and collaborated with Tom Douglas Restaurants to create a Brave American brown ale specially for T-Doug’s Brave Horse Tavern—and it just happened to bring home a bronze medal from the Great American Beer Festival. Not a bad first year. The fact that brewmaster Skip Madsen is the shaggy Steven Spielberg of the brewing community—reliably churning out blockbuster brews at Puget Sound breweries for nearly 20 years—might have a little something to do with ABC’s fast-won popularity
Most Well Rounded: Silver City Brewery
Brewery: 206 Katy Penman Ave, Bremerton, 360-813-1487. Brewpub: 2799 NW Myhre Rd, Silverdale, 360-698-5879; silvercitybrewery.com
As brewmaster Don Spencer is fond of saying, “Some beers are made for sipping; some for tipping.” Silver City has won a slew of industry medals on both these fronts. The oak-aged Fat Woody Scotch Ale packs all the boozy, vanilla-laced wood-smoke notes of a well-made wine, while the Ziggy Zoggy summertime lager begs for a sun-flooded patio. The brewery’s production facility in Bremerton and its brewpub in Silverdale are both worth an excursion, but its bottles make regular appearances in Seattle-area bars, bottle shops, and grocery stores.
Pike Brewing Company
1415 First Ave, Pike Place Market, 206-622-6044; pikebrewing.com
The future first couple of local beer, Charles and Rose Ann Finkel, met at a wine tasting (that he was conducting) in 1968. They married, moved to Seattle, and got into beer sales in 1978, when America was in the throes of its unfortunate relationship with bland, mass-produced brews. In 1989 came Pike Place Brewery, now Pike Brewing, which has since filled Seattle’s glasses with food-friendly, accessible beers in a boozy rainbow of styles, even when words like barley wine and tripel might as well have been Mars speak. The Finkels function as the matriarch and patriarch of local beer, and some of the top brewers in the state learned their craft at Pike’s market-side steam-powered facility.
Most Popular: Georgetown Brewing Company
5200 Denver Ave S, Georgetown, 206-766-8055; georgetownbeer.com
For many Seattle denizens, an easy-drinking pint of Manny’s Pale Ale is the first inkling of life beyond Big Beer. Founders Manny Chao and Roger Bialous tinkered endlessly to create an unfiltered brew that’s about two shades darker in hue than other pale ales, has a hoppy finish lest you forget this is the Pacific Northwest, and is on tap at approximately 5 billion places around town.
Friendliest: Elliott Bay Brewing Company
Elliott Bay Brewhouse and Pub, 255 SW 152nd St, Burien, 206-246-4211. Elliott Bay Public House and Brewery, 12537 Lake City Way NE, Lake City, 206-365-2337. Elliott Bay Brewery and Pub, 4720 California Ave SW, West Seattle, 206-932-8695; elliottbaybrewing.com
The brewpub owners have a knack for slaking the thirst of undertapped neighborhoods, first opening in West Seattle in 1997, then bringing beer and pub grub to Burien and, most recently, Lake City. Kid- and adult-size regulars slide into the wooden booths for burgers and fish-and-chips, but beer is hardly an afterthought; at each bar, a dozen or so of Elliott Bay’s own creations intermingle with finds and favorites from other Washington breweries.
Most Likely to Be Famous: Elysian Brewing Company
1221 E Pike St, Capitol Hill, 206-860-1920. 2106 N 55th St, Wallingford, 206-547-5929. 542 First Ave S, SoDo, 206-382-4498; elysianbrewing.com
If Seattle’s breweries were an actual high school class, Elysian would be the early admissions shoo-in to Beer Harvard. Since its beginnings as a modest 20-barrel facility on Pike Street in 1996, Elysian has created 225 unique beers and opened popular brewpubs in Capitol Hill, Wallingford, and near the downtown stadiums. Drinkers polish off beer as fast as the brewery can make it, so Elysian built a shiny new Georgetown facility and forged a collaboration with Colorado megabrewery New Belgium that keeps 10 states (plus DC, British Columbia, and even Taiwan) amply supplied with beers like Avatar Jasmine IPA and Men’s Room Original Red ale. Its annual Great Pumpkin Beer Festival includes the tapping of an actual pumpkin, filled with a pumpkin brew that undergoes a second round of fermentation inside the gourd. This year Elysian is readying at least 12 unique pumpkin beers for the occasion. Watch this brewery. It’s poised to be a major craft beer presence far beyond Seattle.
Most Outgoing: Two Beers Brewing Company
4700 Ohio Ave S, Unit A, SoDo, 206-762-0490; twobeersbrewery.com
Since opening in 2007, brewer Joel Vandenbrink keeps finding new ways to weave his company into the fabric of the local beer scene. Two Beers was the first Seattle craft brewery to start canning, and aluminum sixers of brews like Persnickety Pale and SoDo Brown are a common sight in grocery stores. The cocoa-brown, hoppy Heart of Darkness Imperial Cascadian Dark Ale is an exemplary execution of a semiobscure beer seldom seen outside the Pacific Northwest. And when the state’s hop crops ripen in late summer, Two Beers gets busy transforming the green buds into fresh hop ale, another rarity in the beer world since hops must be used within 24 hours of harvesting. The newly expanded tasting room is a popular hangout spot, and a great place to sample infused versions of its beers.
Valedictorian: Big Time Brewery and Alehouse
4133 University Way NE, University District, 206-545-4509; bigtimebrewery.com
The oldest surviving brewpub in Washington state has served up English-style ales, like its Coal Creek Porter and Bhagwan’s Best IPA, in the University District since 1988. Its goal has always been to serve the cheapest pints of good beer on the Ave. Good might be an understatement: Big Time has won more Great American Beer Festival medals than any other brewery in Washington. While its beers seldom venture outside the convivial pub, its Whiny the Complainer, an aroma-packed triple IPA, is a newly installed February tradition. The brew’s name pokes fun at beer geeks who bellyache about not getting their hands on another rare annual release, Russian River’s Pliny the Younger out of California.